Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 26, 2020

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Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections for June 26, 2020

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On June 28, 1742, Spanish forces based in Florida invaded Georgia.

On June 28, 1776, Thomas Jefferson’s second draft of the Declaration of Independence was presented to the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

On June 27, 1864, Sherman’s Union forces attacked General Johnston’s Confederates at the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain.

One year later, the Military Department of Georgia was created to oversee Reconstruction in the state.

On June 28, 1887, John Pemberton patented Coca-Cola Syrup and Extract.

Austrian Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, Bosnia on June 28, 1914, sparking the First World War.

On June 26, 1918, the Georgia General Assembly ratified the Eighteenth Amendment, which outlawed the production, sale, and transportation of alcohol. Governor Hugh Dorsey did not sign it for nearly a week, but the United States Secretary of State considers an Amendment ratified when the state legislature has voted on final passage.

The Gone with the Wind scene that includes the line, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” was filmed on June 27, 1939, along with an alternate that used the line, “Frankly, my dear, I just don’t care.”

On June 26, 1945, the United Nations Charter was signed in San Francisco.

The Berlin Airlift began on June 26, 1948 after the Soviet Union had blockaded West Berlin, which was occupied by the United States, Great Britain, and France.

The first production Corvette was assembled on June 28, 1953 in Flint, Michigan.

The first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was released in the UK on June 26, 1997.

Gone with the Wind was re-released on June 26, 1998.

Georgia Politics, Campaigns, and Elections

Two State House members squared off in the House gallery, according to the AJC.

Georgia State Patrol officers in the building were summoned to the fourth floor to defuse the confrontation between Democratic state Rep. Erica Thomas and Republican state Rep. David Clark, though several witnesses said they weren’t necessary.

It was triggered by a Facebook post by Clark that said he was in “utter shock” over remarks on social media by another Democratic lawmaker.

Someone responded to Clark’s post with a meme depicting the garage pull rope formed as a noose that was found in NASCAR driver Bubba Wallace’s garage this weekend.

Thomas said in an interview that she and another colleague demanded that Clark delete the comment after they saw it, and that she was upset when he told her he would “look into it” rather than committing to erasing the remark.

The Suwanee Republican said in a statement that his initial online remarks were a reaction to a “terrible post” by another lawmaker, state Rep. Park Cannon, that he felt compared the police to the Ku Klux Klan.

“I expressed my disapproval of the post online and Rep. Thomas approached me while visibly angry. She came at me in a very aggressive manner, making me think she wanted to hit me,” he said. “Another House member got in her way and the situation then de-escalated.”

Clark’s post condemned Cannon, D-Atlanta, for using the hashtag “#KlanAtTheCapitol” below a picture of Georgia State Patrol officers stationed outside the House chambers earlier this week.

Governor Kemp joined Speaker Ralston and Lieutenant Governor Duncan in calling on Congress to pass COVID relief legislation, according to a press release.

Governor Brian P. Kemp, Lieutenant Governor Duncan, and Speaker David Ralston expressed their support of the passage of an economic relief package for businesses in the wake of COVID-19.

It includes a tax credit to incentivize personal protective equipment (PPE) manufacturers, including those existing Georgia manufacturers which did not traditionally manufacture PPE but began doing so in response to COVID-19. It would allow also businesses which are currently part of the Quality Jobs Tax Credit program to use their 2019 or 2020 job creation numbers to continue in the program in 2020 or 2021, ensuring that existing businesses affected by COVID-19 have flexibility as they create jobs in the state. Both measures were offered as a substitute to House Bill 846 in the Senate Rules Committee.

“Throughout our fight with COVID-19, Georgia businesses have faced a changing landscape forcing them to scale back operations and send hardworking Georgians home from work as they struggled to meet payroll,” said Governor Kemp. “Meanwhile, countless manufacturers – large and small – across Georgia have stepped up to produce critical supplies and ensure that our state remains prepared to protect frontline healthcare workers and our most vulnerable populations. We could not be more grateful for their support.”

“As we look to the future, it is incumbent upon us as state leaders to protect job creators in the state and ensure that Georgia stands ready to respond to future public health crises with a supply of PPE that can be deployed at a moment’s notice. This legislative package will shore up those efforts, ensuring that those in the Georgia businesses who have adapted to meet these challenges head on know that we have their back. I encourage members in both chambers to adopt these measures swiftly to secure a safe, healthy, and prosperous future for Georgia,” said Kemp.

“Businesses across our state have worked quickly and diligently to respond to the COVID crisis,” said Lt. Governor Duncan. “While many companies were able to work from home, our manufacturers worked day and night to provide essential supplies to those on the front line of this pandemic. Georgia is the best state to do business because of the resiliency of our businesses, large and small, who constantly evolve during times of crisis. I am grateful for the leadership of Governor Kemp and look forward to working with Speaker Ralston to get this economic relief package across the finish line.”

“Georgia is a state that rises to meet challenges, and the coronavirus pandemic is no exception,” said Speaker David Ralston. “Private businesses have adapted to meet the needs of their workforces and customers throughout this crisis. As we look ahead, we need to ensure our regulatory and tax policies support Georgia businesses as they get our economy growing again. I am proud to join Governor Kemp and Lt. Governor Duncan in calling for this economic relief package and will work with my colleagues in the General Assembly to pass it quickly.”

Throughout Georgia’s response to COVID-19, the Georgia Department of Economic Development (GDEcD) has headlined efforts to support businesses, identify companies which can restructure operations to produce PPE, and coordinate with those who already are. The Georgia Suppliers Interactive Map and List, compiled by GDEcD, includes more than 260 Georgia companies providing needed protective supplies along with an interactive map displaying business location and a tool to sort supplies by category.

“These measures present a clear message to those in the business community who have gone above and beyond to protect Georgia’s families and frontline heroes and keep our workforce on the payroll that they have a home in Georgia,” said GDEcD Commissioner Pat Wilson. “Incentivizing PPE production and safeguarding businesses which have taken a hit from the pandemic will ensure that Georgia’s future is bright as we continue creating jobs and keeping the state prepared to face future public health challenges.”

Governor Kemp announced the preparation of an 80-bed COVID facility in middle Georgia, according to the Macon Telegraph.

Kemp announced that the Georgia Emergency Management and Homeland Security Agency is preparing the 80-bed facility at the National Guard Youth Challenge Academy. The facility will be staged by medical personnel from PAE Staffing, which Georgia has used to staff a similar alternate care facility at the Georgia World Congress Center.

“The preparation of this smaller facility allows us to provide medical care to low-acuity patients at a location that is more centrally located for many medical facilities throughout Georgia,” Kemp said in a release. “We continue monitoring the virus data to enable us to ‘right size’ the resources and response so we can ensure every COVID-19 patient gets the care they need.”

The equipment from the Georgia World Congress Center that isn’t moved to the new facility will be warehoused in Forsyth at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center.

“Preparing this facility provides an additional safety net by ensuring adequate bed space for medical facilities and our nursing homes,” GEMA/HS Director Homer Bryson said in a release. “We want to utilize the resources that the state has already brought on line to address the medical needs of Georgia.”

LaGrange is site of a COVID-19 outbreak, according to the Ledger-Enquirer.

LaGrange has been ranked as one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the nation, according to a data recently published by the New York Times.

LaGrange was listed by the Times as No. 2 in the nation for new deaths relative to its population and No. 4 in the nation for new cases relative to its population out of all metro areas in the U.S.

Over the past two weeks, LaGrange has had 682 new cases of coronavirus. When scaled to LaGrange’s population, that number comes out to 9.74 new cases per 1,000 persons, indicating a high prevalence of the coronavirus among the city’s population. The Times reports that the curve of new cases in LaGrange is still growing.

The Troup County Sheriff’s Office announced in a press release Tuesday the results from a mass test of its inmates and staff conducted on June 19. Out of the 316 inmates tested, 71 of them tested positive for the coronavirus — roughly a 22% positive rate. This calculation does not include the 21 inmates who refused to be tested.

CDC Director Robert Redfield said actual infection rates for COVID-19 were likely 10 times higher than the current tally, and that the pandemic is not yet over, according to the AJC.

The head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday said his agency now believes that, for every American who tested positive for COVID-19 this spring, there were another 10 whose cases went undiagnosed.

On a call with reporters, CDC Director Robert Redfield said between 5% and 8% of Americans are believed to have been infected with COVID-19, which means the vast majority of the population is still vulnerable to the virus.

“This pandemic is not over,” he said.

The estimate is based on recent blood samples, collected from lab tests from across the U.S., that contained antibodies for the virus, according to Redfield.

In Georgia, that could mean as many as 710,000 people have suffered from the virus. The state Department of Public Health has, so far, confirmed 71,000 COVID-19 cases in Georgia.

“We’re not talking about a second wave right now,” he said. “We’re still in the first wave.”

The General Assembly meets today in the last day of this legislative session and will adjourn Sine Die. From the AJC:

It was the scuttlebutt in the halls of the Capitol throughout Thursday: Well-connected lobbyists were making a late push for legislation that would let Georgia voters decide whether to legalize casinos, horse racing and sports betting.

Skeptics see it as unlikely. Supporters in the House believe they have the two-thirds majority needed for passage, but the tally in the Senate is murkier.

When House Speaker David Ralston calls a measure a “job killer,” it seems assured of a one-way ticket to the scrap heap. But the Senate is set to vote on House Bill 1035 anyways.

As it stands now, the measure would cut all tax breaks on the books 10% to match the 10% cut lawmakers are making in state spending because of the coronavirus pandemic recession.

The Senate adopted a measure earlier this week, House Bill 167, that would limit legal liability for companies unless they engage in “gross negligence, willful and wanton misconduct or intentional infliction of harm.”

It’s pending in the House, where it’s no sure thing. Democrats, unions and other critics argue the measure would take away one of the most effective tools frontline workers have for fighting unsafe business practices. Gross negligence cases are extremely difficult to prove, they say.

The Georgia Senate passed an FY 21 budget calling for $25.9 billion dollars in state spending, according to the Capitol Beat News Service via the Augusta Chronicle.

The budget, which cleared the Senate 40-13 on the next-to-last day of the 2020 legislative session, would reduce state spending by $2.2 billion. That’s substantially less than the legislature’s appropriations committees had been contemplating earlier in the budget review process.

The smaller reduction would allow lawmakers to cancel all furlough days for teachers and state employees and restore some of the painful reductions that had been slated for behavioral and public health, public safety, agriculture, rural hospitals and child welfare services.

The six-member joint House-Senate conference committee that negotiated the budget deal Thursday took advantage of a more optimistic revenue forecast Gov. Brian Kemp released recently after receiving a smaller-than-anticipated decline in tax receipts resulting from the coronavirus-driven recession.

Legislative budget writers also drew down $250 million from the state’s general fund reserves and $50 million from Georgia’s share of the national tobacco settlement to help offset some of the impact of the cuts.

From the AJC:

State House and Senate leaders agreed Thursday on a final budget for the upcoming fiscal year that cuts $950 million in basic k-12 school funding but doesn’t force state agencies or the University System of Georgia to furlough staffers.

They also lessened some of the cuts to mental health and substance abuse programs, an area particularly hard hit by earlier budget plans.

House Appropriations Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, said Gov. Brian Kemp’s recent estimate – which showed the revenue drop wouldn’t be quite as bad as earlier expected – allowed budget writers to keep from having to ask employees to take days off without pay.

The pandemic brought record unemployment, and thousands of businesses either closed or still struggle to remain open. That, in turn, has sent state tax collections — mostly for income and sales taxes — plummeting.

Senate Bill 375 passed the State House with new regulations and fees for vaping products, according to AccessWDUN.

The House voted 123-33 to pass Senate Bill 375, sending it back to the Senate for more debate.

The bill would regulate and tax vaping products in the same way that tobacco products are taxed and regulated. Rep. Bonnie Rich, a Suwanee Republican who was pushing for the move, says estimates show the state will collect $11 million to $19 million a year in taxes on vaping products.

A Senate committee has proposed raising Georgia’s tax on cigarettes from 37 cents a pack to $1.35 a pack in a separate measure. Georgia’s current tax is the third-lowest among states. The federal government charges an additional $1.01 in taxes on each pack of 20 cigarettes. The full Senate hasn’t considered that plan, with the General Assembly scheduled to end its yearly session on Friday.

House Bill 879 achieved final passage and would allow home delivery of alcohol and , according to AccessWDUN.

The state House gave final approval to legislation Thursday allowing packaged goods retailers to make home deliveries of beer, wine and liquor. House members approved of the bill 114-45.

Under the bill, only alcohol in “unbroken packages” could be sold via delivery. Buyers would have to set up an account with the store, pay in advance of the delivery and present an ID to be scanned or otherwise verified at their door.

“It’s actually a safer and more documented process to make a purchase through delivery than it is at the counter in any retailer,” said Rep. Brett Harrell, a Republican from Snellville who sponsored the bill.

The state Senate passed the proposal by a vote of 42-9 on Tuesday, after making several changes to the House bill, including allowing for the delivery of liquor. A previous version from the House only allowed for delivery of beer and wine.

From the AJC:

Not everyone likes the bill.

While some liquor store owners told senators they wanted to be included in the delivery business, Stony McGill, a lobbyist for the Georgia Alcohol Dealers Association, said the 500 small stores he represents would be at a disadvantage because they are not set up with websites and a delivery system.

Harrell’s original bill excluded liquor stores from being able to deliver liquor to customers, but Senate President Pro Tem Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, added them to the measure Monday, saying local retailers need help.

“As usual, we have concerns about the expansion of the sale of alcohol,” said Michael Griffin, a lobbyist for the Georgia Baptist Mission Board, told a Senate panel last week. “Accessibility equals sales, sales equal consumption. The more you consume there is the potential there for problems.”

Past-due mortgages are rising in Augusta, according to the Augusta Chronicle.

The latest CoreLogic Loan Performance Insights Report for March 2020 showed 0.3% of Augusta-Aiken homes are in the foreclosure process, one-tenth lower than the 0.4% national average.

But the Irvine, Calif.-based data firm said 5.1% of area homes are 30 days or more behind, which is 1.5 percentage points above the 3.6% national average. Its data also showed that mortgages in “serious delinquency” – 90 or more days past due – were 1.7%, or five-tenths of a point higher than the national average.

Initial unemployment claims continued trending downward, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

Initial unemployment claims in Georgia fell again last week as the jobless rate declined throughout the state.

Out-of-work Georgians filed 125,725 first-time unemployment claims last week, down 6,272 from the previous week, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.

Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell in all of Georgia’s Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) and regions. Statewide, joblessness in May declined to 9.7%.

“These positive indicators are promising for Georgia’s job market,” state Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said. “I believe we are beginning to stabilize our economy, allowing Georgians to again focus on employment and spending.”

The Hall County Board of Elections Chair wants more training from the state ahead of the next round of elections, according to AccessWDUN.

Dr. Tom Smiley spoke to AccessWDUN Thursday morning just after issuing a memorandum to the Hall County Commission, praising the local elections staff, while at the same time criticizing the Secretary of State’s Office for making their jobs more difficult this month.

“To be frank with you, I wasn’t real pleased with the support that we got from the Secretary of State during this whole run up to the election process,” Smiley said. “I don’t believe that the training was adequate…they were so late in getting us information, getting us support, and then to turn around and infer that all the problems were basically the local authorities’ problems, I thought was unfair.”

Smiley said he thinks coordination of the August runoff won’t be a problem, but he wants the state to conduct some additional training for local workers prior to the November election.

“I really would like for them to give a lot of attention to training some of these local bodies,” Smiley said.

“Secretary Raffensperger was incorrect and misguided in stating that local elections staffs are responsible for training local personnel. It is the Secretary of State’s office tasked with training the trainers; a task that, in my observation, the Secretary of State’s office did poorly.” [said the memo.]

“Specifically, our local effort to prepare our election staff and poll workers was hampered by slow action and decision making by the office of the Secretary of State months before the run up to the election.” [said the memo.]

The Macon-Bibb County Board of Elections complains that inadequate funding will , according to the Macon Telegraph.

“We requested over a million dollars and we got $950,000,” board chairman Mike Kaplan said during Tuesday evening’s board meeting.

“This budget makes us look like we don’t know what we’re doing and that’s not fair,” [Board Administrative Assistant] Maynard told board members. “The county has not discussed anything with us. We have not gotten an explanation.”

Maynard listed a number of spending categories where expenses have risen, such as salaries because more poll workers are needed with the new voting machines and the increase in absentee ballots due to COVID-19.

Elections supervisor Jeanetta Watson said the county could recoup $10,000 from a grant through the Help America Vote Act. About $3,000 of the $4,110 spent on personal protective equipment could be paid for through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security, or CARES Act, she said.

A grant also was available for two secure absentee ballot drop boxes the board wanted to purchase for a total of $4,246.

“The county dropped the ball and missed the deadline for getting that grant,” Watson said.

Candidate qualifying for a vacant seat on the Varnell City Council will run from July 27-29, according to the Valdosta Daily Times.

Savannah-Chatham County public schools continue working on back-to-school plans for the fall, according to the Savannah Morning News.

Prior to entering the school building for Tuesday’s media event, each person’s temperature was checked with a forehead scanner. School resource officers asked each person basic health questions about COVID-19 symptoms and possible exposure. Everyone wore a face mask.

“One thing that we’re learning very quickly is that the 6-feet distance is going to be a challenge. We do know that we see it in our own experiences in the community that some people just did not know what 6 feet is,” Levett said.

“We know that our young people are resilient. It’s usually the adults who have the challenges with these things, so we’ll be working with staff, parents, and students in hopes of opening on time.”

Classrooms will look different. Schools might utilize areas such as the cafeteria as additional learning space. “We won’t be able to have our typical 20 to 25 students in one classroom,” Levett explained.

Flowery Branch City Council adopted an FY 21 budget and property tax millage rate, according to the Gainesville Times.

The city’s proposed tax rate is staying the same at 3.264 mills, with 1 mill equal to $1 per $1,000 in assessed property value. Under that formula, a $250,000 home would be taxed at $326.40.

That means a hike for residents with rising property assessments. The tax bill would remain the same for homeowners who saw no change in home values.

Bulloch County Commissioners have received two proposals for an existing Confederate memorial, according to the Statesboro Herald.

Bulloch County commissioners and staff have received a proposal from the Willow Hill Heritage & Renaissance Center for a contextualizing sign for the Confederate soldier memorial at the courthouse and a counterproposal from local Sons of Confederate Veterans leader Mike Mull.

A Georgia law signed by Gov. Brian Kemp in 2019 prohibits local governments from removing or altering war memorials on public land, including but not limited to Civil War monuments. A 2017 Bulloch County policy revision – not actually a law – prohibits adding permanent monuments or signs on the courthouse grounds unless the commissioners decide that these are “deemed necessary” for the courthouse’s official functioning.

The wording of the proposed contextual marker was made public during the largest of several local demonstrations following recent nationally publicized killings of black Americans by police and vigilantes. But the Marker and Monument Committee, formed as part of the Willow Hill Center’s Commemoration of 400 years of African-American History, 1619-2019, had started planning for such a marker more than a year ago.

About two weeks ago, Mull, current commander of Ogeechee Rifles Camp 941, Sons of Confederate Veterans and a past acting state division commander, met Bulloch County Board of Commissioners Chairman Roy Thompson and gave him a counterproposal.

The wording from the Willow Hill group was based closely on that of a marker placed last September beside a Confederate monument in DeKalb County. The monument in Decatur was removed last week under a judge’s order based on the DeKalb government’s claim that it posed a danger to public safety.

Athens-Clarke County Commissioners approved moving a Confederate monument, according to the Athens Banner Herald.

The removal is part of a $500,000 pedestrian crossing project that also includes closing off College Square, the block of College Avenue between Broad and Clayton Streets, into a pedestrian alleyway.

The stretch of asphalt will become an outdoor dining and drinking area for a six-month trial period while workers reconfigure pedestrian crossing routes and patterns at the busy College Avenue-Broad Street intersection, where tens of thousands of pedestrians cross the streets during normal times when the University of Georgia is in session.

Under a $450,000 plan Athens-Clarke administrators and engineers prepared last week, the 19th-century obelisk bearing the names of Clarke County men who died on the side of the Confederacy will be moved to land off Macon Highway near the site of Clarke County’s only battle during the war, a small skirmish near Barber Creek and the Oconee County border.

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